The Numbers Don’t Lie: The Greatness of John Stockton

March 25th, 2015 | by David J Smith
The Statistics Help Illustrate John Stockton's place in NBA History (Kent Horner/Getty Images)

The Statistics Help Illustrate John Stockton’s place in NBA History (Kent Horner/Getty Images)

Personal confession time: growing up, beyond family and a few close friends, John Stockton was perhaps the most influential person in my life. Sad, but true. #12 was my number of choice for all my basketball teams. Most of my passwords involved some Stock-related component. I cannot confirm nor deny the rumor that our family had cake on his March 26th birthday on occasion.

And yes, our son is named Stockton, though my wife chose that name. You can ask her. Go ahead1.

With all this in mind, the last two years, I delved into John Stockton’s greatness for Salt City Hoops. In 2013, we discussed the staggering amount of points for which Stockton accounted. Last year, we looked at 52 John Stockton memories, right in time for his 52nd birthday2.

Well, tomorrow is Stockton’s day of birth. Rather that branch out to 53 memories–collective sighing across the board– let’s take a more statistical look at Stockton. How great was John Stockton? Based solely on the numbers, he is not only one of the best point guards to take the court, but is among the best players the Association has seen.

Most of these accolades and marks are well known by Jazz faithful, but let’s recap them:

  • NBA’s all-time leader in total assists with 15,806. To put that in perspective, that is 5,471 more dimes that the great Steve Nash, who announced his retirement over the weekend. Stockton had 3,715 more than the #2 on the all-time list, Jason Kidd–31% more.
  • Led the league in assists nine consecutive seasons. He set the NBA’s single season mark for total assists three times (1988, 1990, 1991). In 1989-90, he missed doing that, but managed to average a record 14.5 APG. Stockton has seven of the top 10 single-season assist tallies. In 17 of his 19 seasons, he finished in the top 10 for total assists3. This includes his second season in the NBA, as well as his final one at age 41.
  • NBA’s all-time leader in total steals with 3,265. He finished in the top 10 in total steals 15 of his 19 seasons, even in his swan song season4.
  • 10-time NBA All-Star. It could be argued that should be 11 or 12. In 1993, he teamed up with Karl Malone to win the All-Star Game MVP.
  • 11-time All-NBA honors, including twice on the first team.
  • Five-time NBA All-Defensive team honors.
  • With 1,504 games, Stockton has the record for most games played for just one franchise. He played every game in 17 of 19 seasons and never missed a postseason game for the Jazz.
  • The Jazz made the Playoffs all 19 of his seasons, with five conference final appearances and, of course, two NBA Finals opportunities.
  • Stockton is seventh in all-time minutes played, 47,764, though he only was in the top 10 thrice.
  • He was also second in career turnovers with 4,244. That said, a 3.72 assist/turnover ratio was well worth it.
  • Stockton finished in the top 10 in field goal percentage six times and in 3-point percentage four times. He was above 50 percent 12 seasons and above 48 percent 18 years. He was better than 80 percent from the free throw line 16 seasons.
  • People forget that Stockton scored 19,711 points. He was in double-figures 16 consecutive seasons.

Now, for some advances stats fun. If he was playing today, he would be the darling of the analytics world.

  • Not surprising, but he is the league’s leader in career Assist Percentage, at a remarkable 50.2 mark. He paced the NBA 15 times and was twice three other times. He was at 57.5 in 1990.
  • Stockton sports the ninth best True Shooting Percentage ever–.608. He led the NBA three times–1995, 1998, 2001– and had 10 campaigns in the top 10. He was top 10 in 2-point field goal percentage nine times.
  • He also led the NBA in Effective Field Goal Percentage in 1996 and was top 10 eight times. Not too shabby for a 6’1″ point guard.
  • Stockton finished in the top seven for Steal Percentage 14 times and is seventh overall (3.5). He led the NBA twice.
  • He had a 21.0 or better PER mark in his final 16 seasons. His mark at age 41 would have been third on the current Jazz roster.
  • Stockton is fifth all-time in Win Shares, with 207.7.  He was top 10 over 11 seasons, including eight times in the top 55.
  • Furthermore, he is fifth all-time in Offensive Win shares–142.8, along with twelve top 10 seasons.
  • In the Playoffs, Stockton had career marks of 19.8 PER, .568 TS%, 47.8 AST% and 2.8 STL%. That’s over 182 games.

There may be a bit of bias here, but while he played, it felt like John Stockton was sometimes overlooked. Perhaps factors like postseason disappointments, his reputation of being dirty and his deflection of flashy play contributed to that. When asked about the top floor leaders, the casual NBA fan often would go with showier guys like Magic Johnson (which is understood), Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway and Gary Payton. They were the ones who made the SportsCenter highlights and all were great players.

Now that it’s been over a decade since he played, there are still some that look past Stockton, though State Farm did right by him.

Stockton played a game of fundamentals and substance–one that did not get the limelight, but one that helped the Jazz be winners and contenders year-in and year-out. An objective look at his statistics help qualify his place in the game’s history.

He was just a great, great player. One of the best ever.

David J Smith

David J Smith

Besides writing for Salt City Hoops, David contributes to the Utah Jazz coverage for the Deseret News and has written for the Utah Jazz website and (now Basketball Insiders). He graduated from BYU and works for LDS Philanthropies. He and his incredibly patient wife, Elizabeth, have some amazing children--four girls and two boys. Voted "Most Likely to Replace Jerry Sloan" in high school.
David J Smith

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  1. LKA says:

    Not much more to add David. And never was MVP. Along with Sloan never being COY..Talk about blindness.

    • David J Smith says:

      As Stock said in his HOF speech, he felt he was never the best guy on any of his teams. I’m sure it pleased him more to see the Mailman get those two MVPs a lot.

      Now, Sloan not winning COY is an entirely different story!

  2. Steve says:

    Stockton was the last. The game has changed and I do not think we will see another. I loved watching him play. I always believed he could have scored way more but just chose to pass first. It amazing to see just how great of a shooter her was. And YES JOHN WAS DIRTY. He threw knees into players screening him, but that only makes me love him more.

  3. Here’s my video tribute to John Stockton’s carreer. Hope you’ll enjoy. Cheers ! :

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